“In the end I’m disappointed in myself for becoming the very thing I despised and had promised so many to remove from this Little League. I realized I became self-absorbed with my own personal vendettas and agendas that all of “us” had been accusing everyone “else” of having. I have no one to blame but myself.” Michael Wiltshire
In many ways, Michael Wiltshire, a Los Angeles area father, is just like thousands of other parents across the country. You sign your kid up for baseball (or soccer or basketball…) and the next thing you know, you’re the coach or maybe even the league director. You start out with the bests of intentions: you want to help the kids, serve your community, teach young people about a sport you love, get to know your neighbors better. But then something ugly starts to creep in. Whether you’re the coach in the dugout or the wannabe coach shouting from the bleachers, one day you wake up and discover that you’ve become “that guy”—the one who makes modern youth sports completely miserable for the kids. You look in the mirror and realize that you’re the problem. You’ve become the coach (or the parent) you always vowed you’d never let your kids play for or be around.
Michael Wiltshire had such an epiphany recently.
“A breakthrough…breakdown…breakthrough…I hated myself. I hated my place in my community,” he said, paraphrasing the character Jerry Maguire in the film of the same name.
“I thought I was volunteering to help organize a local Little League and play some baseball with my kid. Instead, I walked into years of built up resentment and hatred between neighbors.” Even though they loved to use the words “our community,” he said it didn’t feel that way to him. Instead, he was dealing with a bunch of bickering adults who had lost sight of the goal of making Little League fun for everyone. “I allowed myself to become consumed with their toxic environment of gossip and lies,” he said. “I didn’t realize it affected me so much. My moods grew worse and I was easily irritated by co-workers, friends and family.”
But he said the worst part was that he wound up embarrassing his wife “who is sweetheart and native to the area that everyone knows and loves.” Wiltshire said he was either going to have a nervous breakdown or an epiphany the day the Hawthorne National Wiseburn Little League ran re-elections for board positions. “In a last ditch effort to open the community’s eyes and remind them what our true focus should be about and put our differences aside, I put together a short video followed by an open letter of apology to the community and my wife.”
After the highly contested election for the position of “player agent” ended in a tie between himself and another parent, Wiltshire withdrew his name and announced that he would not return to the Board of Directors for the 2016-2017 season.
In a humble and emotional letter he wrote:
I failed to see that I had evolved into the absolute hypocrite I was accusing everyone else of being. I have always preached the only way to make change is from within, and it is easier to make change and build on the current foundation already in place, rather than to fully remove and start all over again. I allowed various people of this community and board to manipulate and feed my ego. In the end I’m disappointed in myself for becoming the very thing I despised and had promised so many to remove from this Little League. I realized I became self-absorbed with my own personal vendettas and agendas that all of “us” had been accusing everyone “else” of having. I have no one to blame but myself. I allowed myself to become consumed with this ever-growing toxic environment of personal axes to grind.
Wiltshire apologized to his wife and family and to the community:
As a result of this, the only people that really suffered were my wife and family. My dear, sweet wife, who begged me to stay away, said that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. She was so right. I was in way over my head trying to take on two 800 lb. gorillas at the same time. For this, I apologize to my wife. I should have listened and stayed away and enjoyed from afar. I kindly ask the community who knows my wife as a born and raised native of this community, please do not hold my actions against her. It’s not her fault I duped her into marrying an arrogant, New York a**hole. I’m probably going to be in enough sh** once she finds out I sent this to all of you.
Unfortunately, Wiltshire had to learn some lessons the hard way:
I wish I would have listened to my mother and my wife. Both have repeatedly told me, “You know what, Michael? Some people just don’t care about your opinion and what you have to say, so stay out of it!” It took 42 years, but I’m finally beginning to learn that most people don’t always need that blast of truth. They don’t mind being lied to as long as it doesn’t directly impact them in a harmful way. And I’m finally coming to terms that it is okay, too. There is nothing wrong with that. Just like the “unspoken rules of baseball,” there are unspoken rules between neighbors that I’m beginning to learn.
I wish I could go back to being one of those community members who only knew the one side of all these people I originally met and respected 2 years ago. They were simple community volunteers and fellow parents that I was thankful for because they were providing a safe environment for my kids to learn and play.
Wiltshire wrote that their actions over the years had inspired him and he got involved because he thought he could help. Instead, he said, “reputations were ruined, friendships were made awkward and nothing was resolved. I thought I could be the shining knight and instead I felt I became the village idiot.”
He added that the whole thing was a very humbling experience.
I should have remembered why I fell in love with my wife after watching her night after night beating all her friends at poker. She was always the smartest person in the room. I should have listened to you, Sweetie. Some of them are good people with history and grudges that predate me that I’ll never understand. But now I realize it. You were the only person who did not feed my ego and (I felt) did not support me and I resented you for that. I realize now that your strength and honesty I accused you of never having came in the form of love and protection. You have always been the smarter and stronger one. Thank you for making me a better man and father. I will now work on being a better husband and brother to my own family. I love you forever☺.
Wiltshire ended the letter by withdrawing his son’s name from Little League All-Star consideration. “Carlos buddy, I am so very sorry to take him away from you a second time in the same season, but I’m sure you understand.☺Hopefully you’ll be coaching him on the a 10-11 WLL All-Star team next year. Good luck brother!”
Through this process Wiltshire said he was inspired. “I became a new man. Though I may have upset a few individuals within my community, I have my health, happiness and family back.”
Childhood is fleeting. As I’ve learned with my own two boys, the time will come—much sooner than you expect—when there are suddenly no more games or practices to attend. You’ll stop finding baseball gear strewn about the garage and there won’t be any dirty sweat socks wadded up under the back seat of the mini-van. You’ll drive by the baseball field and someone else’s kids will be playing there. And you’ll miss it (and your kids) so much it will hurt, way down deep in your soul.
Try to think about how that’s going to feel when you’re arguing over things that seem really important right now but that won’t matter to you when your kids are away at college and you’re driving by that baseball field watching someone else’s kids play. Enjoy every minute of right now and don’t waste a second on drama or political infighting because you’re going to blink and it will be over.
That’s the message Michael Wiltshire wants you to take away from his “Jerry Maguire” moment.